Is Pope Francis a Positive Force or a Dangerous Illusion?

Francis wolf

A good friend of mine recently shared a link from the Real News Network that deserves a response. It was an interview with Chris Hedges criticizing Pope Francis for not being radical enough in his denunciation of capitalism and imperialism. The award-winning journalist gave the impression that the pope should have denounced both as such and offered alternatives.

I was surprised by Hedges’ remarks. That’s because my personal assessment is that the pope actually has done all three. He has been scathing in his denunciation of capitalism; he has denounced colonial imperialism, and has offered clear alternatives to capitalism-as-we-know-it. The pope did so during his” homecoming” trip through Latin America late last summer, during his subsequent six-day trip to the United States, and especially in his landmark encyclical, Laudato Si’ (LS).

On his Latin American tour, Pope Francis’ was quite direct in his denunciation of capitalism and imperial colonialism.

For instance, addressing the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Francis traced today’s global problems back to their origins in European colonialism beginning in 1492. But he also identified new forms of colonialism exercised through corporations, loan agencies, “free trade” treaties, and imposition of “austerity measures.”

Such actors and policies, he said, subordinate states to outside powers which also exercise control through misguided measures ostensibly aimed at controlling drug trafficking, political corruption, and terrorism. More subtly, external powers colonize, destroy local cultures and foster cultural uniformity through communications monopolies, which the pope described as “ideological colonialism.”

“Let us say NO to forms of colonialism old and new,” he said.

Still in Latin America, the pope went on to criticize capitalism-as-we-know-it as “an invisible thread” connecting problems of world poverty, worker exploitation, landlessness among farmers, homelessness, and destruction of the natural environment. That system imposes the mentality of profit at any price without concern for its impact on displaced peasants and workers or for its destructive effects on “Mother Earth.”

The system, he said “is by now intolerable: farm workers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable … The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable.”

For me, all of that represents not only criticism of imperialism, but of the free market system.

Then during his visit to the United States, Pope Francis offered an extremely harsh denunciation of capitalism itself. There he in effect referred to economic system we know as “filthy,” “rotten,” and “putrid.” He called the Wall Street speculators “hypocrites.” Moreover, the pope directly confronted the members of his audience by calling the system they represented “the greatest purveyor of violence” in the world today. And he implied that  the politicians seated before him were a bunch of gangsters.

Even Chris Hedges may have missed all of that, because the polite, soft-spoken, and gentle pontiff was a gracious enough guest to say none of those things directly. He did so instead by offering Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King and Thomas Merton as embodiments of our country’s greatest values.

It was Dorothy Day who is remembered as saying, “We need to overthrow . . . this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering in the whited sepulcher of New York.”

It was King who called the United States itself, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

And it was Thomas Merton, the apostle of non-violence, who classified U.S. politicians and military leaders among the world’s gangsters when he said, “The world is full of great criminals with enormous power, and they are in a death struggle with each other. It is a huge gang battle . . .”

Moreover, Pope Francis did not leave his audience merely reeling from such heavy blows un-complemented by clear systemic alternatives to the filthy rotten arrangement he addressed. Instead, the pontiff called for a deep restructuring of capitalism-as-we-know-it. This would involve turning the present system’s preferential option for the rich precisely on its head, replacing it with his favorite guideline, the “preferential option for the poor.” Even more particularly, restructuring would require a central international legislative body endowed with power to override national economic practices judged to be environmentally unsound.

Both recommendations are found clearly stated in Laudato Si’ which the pope cited in his congressional address (LS 53, 173-175). Surprisingly, both have already been implemented world-wide.

To begin with, the New Deal, the Great Society and (even more so) Europe’s introduction of the welfare state already represent arrangements which forefronted the needs of the working classes and poor. The reform measures were at the very least strong gestures towards economies mixed in favor of the poor rather than of the Wall Street rich. Such reforms demonstrated that another economic order is indeed possible.

As for the world body with power to enforce environmental legislation, the World Trade Organization (WTO) already has it, though perversely in its present form. According to the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (and of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership), multinational corporations (MNCs) now have the power to sue before the WTO and invalidate U.S. environmental protection standards if those laws can be shown to diminish a corporation’s expected profits.

What the pope is proposing is an international body that turns the WTOs mandate upside-down.  The body the pope proposes would have binding power to protect the environment from the depredations of MNCs – i.e. is to eliminate their profits if they result from environmental destruction.

So I respectfully suggest that Chris Hedges is mistaken when he says Pope Francis has pulled his punches. The pontiff has been quite specific in offering alternatives to the system he has so sharply critized. As an honored guest, he gently delivered knock-out blows clearly observable to attentive listeners.

It remains for prophets like Hedges and others to highlight and reinforce them and in this way to advance us towards the Other World Pope Francis would convince skeptics is possible.

 

Jesus and Abraham Call Us to Abandon the Bible’s “Psychopath in the Sky” (Sunday Homily)

Love Enemies

Readings for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gn. 18:20-32; Ps. 138:1-3, 608; Col. 2:12-14; Lk. Ll:1-13.

Today’s readings about Abraham bargaining with God and about Jesus teaching his followers to pray raise some vital questions about God’s personality and existence. Abraham’s compassionate God seems to conflict with the warlike God who appears elsewhere in the Bible.

So who’s right? Should we be afraid of God? Or can we trust the very Ground of Our Being? Is God warlike and punitive or kind and forgiving? If he’s our “Daddy” (that’s what “Abba” means in Jesus’ prayer: “Our Daddy who transcends everything”) does our experience show him to be abusive or loving? Today’s readings help us wrestle with those questions. In fact, they call us to a holy atheism.

But before I get to that, let me frame my thoughts.

A few days ago, it was reported that an airstrike led by the United States in Syria killed more civilians than perished in the Bastille Day killing of 84 people in the city of Nice following a celebratory fireworks display.

But whereas the Nice slaughter evoked general consternation, sympathy, and compassion, the U.S. killings elicited very little public notice here. The general feeling seems to be that our killings of civilians are somehow tolerable because the strikes protect Americans from the terrorists actually targeted in what are described as wayward airstrikes.

That’s the logic our government has adopted as it represents our country where 78-85% of the population claims to follow the one who refused to defend himself and gave his life that others might live. The logic of most American Christians says that killing innocents – even children – is acceptable if it saves American lives. Apparently, that’s the American notion of salvation: better them than us.

However that way of thinking is not what’s endorsed in today’s liturgy of the word. (And here I come back to those questions I raised earlier about God’s personality and existence.) There in Sodom and Gomorrah, Yahweh refuses to punish the wicked even if it means that as few as 10 innocents would lose their lives in the process.

Better-us-than-them is not the logic of Jesus who in teaching his disciples to pray tells them that God is better than us. God gives bread to anyone who asks. Yahweh acts like a loving father. He forgives sin and gives his children what they ask for. In fact, God shares his Spirit of love and forgiveness – he shares Jesus’ spirit of self-sacrifice – with anyone who requests it.

Elsewhere, Jesus says something even more shocking. Yahweh doesn’t even prefer the good over the wicked, he says. He showers his blessings (not bombs!) on everyone. Or as Jesus himself put it, God makes the sun rise on the virtuous and the criminal; his rain benefits those we consider evil as well as those we classify as good (Mt. 5:45). We should learn from that God, Jesus says, and be as perfect like him (Mt. 5:48). In fact, we should consider no one “the enemy” not even those who threaten us and kill us even as Jesus was threatened and killed (Lk. 6: 27-36).

How different is that from the way most of us think and act? How different is that from the God we’ve been taught to believe in?

Yes, you might say, but what about those other passages in the Bible where God is fierce and genocidal? After all, the Great Flood must have killed many good people and even children. And God did that, didn’t he? What about his instructions (more than once) to kill everyone without distinction. For example the Book of Joshua records: “Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded (Joshua 10:40). What about the Book of Revelation, which many Christians argue predicts God’s total destruction of the world? What about that violent, pitiless, threatening God? Is that the “Abba” of Jesus?

Good questions. They’re good because they make us face up to the fact that the Bible is ambiguous about God. No, let me put it more strongly. The Bible isn’t just ambiguous about God. It’s often plain wrong – at least If we adopt the perspective of Jesus and Abraham in today’s readings.

After all, Abraham’s God is not genocidal; Joshua’s is. Jesus’ God is not genocidal; Joshua’s is. Those Gods are not compatible. One of them must be false. Or as Jack Nelson Pallmeyer writes in his book Is Religion Killing Us? “Either God is a pathological killer or the Bible is sometimes wrong about God.”

Today’s readings show us that both Abraham and Jesus agree.

The Abraham story is about a man gradually rejecting Nelson’s Psychopath in the sky. Israel’s furthest back ancestor comes to realize that God is merciful, not punitive or cruel. Or as the psalmist puts it in today’s responsorial, God is kind, true, and responsive to prayer. God protects the weak and lowly and is distant from the powerful and haughty. In today’s reading from Genesis, we witness Abraham plodding slowly but surely towards that conclusion.

It’s the realization eventually adopted by Jesus: God is a kind father, not a war God. If Abraham’s God won’t tolerate killing 50 innocent people, nor 45, 40, 30, 20, or even 10, Jesus’ God is gentler still. That God won’t tolerate killing anybody – not even those threatening Jesus’ own life.

All of that should be highly comforting to us. It has implications for us, politically, personally and liturgically.

Politically it means that followers of Jesus should be outraged by anyone connecting Jesus with our country’s perpetual war since 9/11, 2001. A bombing program that kills the innocent with the targeted flies in the face of Abraham’s gradually-dawning insight about a merciful God. The war itself makes a complete mockery of Jesus’ total non-violence and the words of the prayer he taught us. Those supporting “America’s” “better them than us” attitude are atheists before Jesus’ God and the one depicted in the Abraham story.

Personally, what we’ve heard this morning should drive us towards an atheism of our own. It should cause us to review and renew our understandings of God. Impelled by today’s readings, we should cast as far from us as we can any inherited notions of a pathological, punishing, cruel, threatening and vindictive God. We need that holy atheism. Let’s pray for that gift together.

And that brings us to today’s liturgy. In effect, we’ve gathered around this table to hear God’s clarifying word, and symbolically act out the peaceful world that Jesus called “God’s Kingdom.” We’ve gathered around this table to break bread not only with each other, but emblematically with everyone in the world including those our culture considers enemies.

I mean if God is “Our Father,” everyone is our sister, everyone, our brother. It’s just that some couldn’t make it to our family’s table today. But they’re here in spirit; they’re present around this altar. They are Taliban and ISIS; they are Iraqis, Afghanis, Yemenis, and Somalis; they are Muslims and Jews; they include Edward Snowden and Tamir Rice. They include those children killed in U.S. bombing raids. They are you and I!

All of us are children of a loving God. Jesus’ “Lord’s Prayer” says that.

Now that’s something worth celebrating.

THE ATROCITIES in NICE: Replacing War with Truth & Reconciliation

NICE

The entire world was shocked by the horrendous atrocities of July 14th during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, when a madman ran over scores of his fellow citizens.

Appropriately the crimes were followed by tears, laying of wreaths, moments of silence, and prayer vigils.

France’s President Hollande evoked sympathy when he correctly declared the attacks “an act of war.” No one disagreed.

However, Mr. Hollande was not correct in his implication that the killings in Nice (and earlier in Paris and at Charlie Hebdo) somehow began a war that France and its partners have now self-righteously resolved to “finish.” Rather, all those massacres are part of a much bigger picture that centralizes France’s participation in the U.S.-fabricated War in Iraq and the resulting creation of the Islamic State (ISIS).

To fill out that picture, consider the following home truths about that war in particular, and about war in general. Uncomfortable as they are, allowing those truths to sink in might help uncover non-violent alternatives to the carnage that stupefies everyone.

Begin here:

  • War is hell.
  • In modern warfare, 90% of casualties are civilian.
  • The casualties include refugee migrations.

_____

  • The West’s response to 9/11/01 was to declare war.
  • It began a campaign of bombing and extra-judicial assassination in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere.

_____

  • According to a study by Lancet (one of the oldest scientific medical journals in the world), since 2003 the U.S. war in Iraq has caused more than one million deaths – again, most of them civilian.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. has supplied weapons to Israel and Saudi Arabia for their own bombing campaigns against Muslims in Gaza and Yemen.
  • In Gaza alone (with complete U.S. support) the Israeli Defense Force fired 50,000 shells, carried out 6000 airstrikes, destroyed 3,500 buildings, killed 2250 Gazans, including 551 children.

_____

  • In wars there are always at least two sides.
  • All have the right to attack and counter-attack.
  • It is insane to be shocked when counter-attacks occur.
  • Counter-attacks often mimic attacks.
  • So if one side is perceived as attacking defenseless civilians, the other side will likely respond in kind.

_____

  • France itself is at war.
  • President Hollande is a founding member of the U.S.-led coalition that has recently dropped 175,000 bombs on Iraq and Syria killing at least 600 civilians in the process.
  • Therefore no one should be surprised when “in kind” counter-attacks occur. (To repeat: that’s the way war works.)

In view of such home truths, and recognizing that intensified bombing has proven counterproductive, instead of responding to the Paris massacre with more of the same, the U.S., France and their allies should:

  • On principle reject the atrocities of war that on both sides justly horrify everyone.
  • Institute instead a process of Truth and Reconciliation that admits and apologizes for the causal role the War in Iraq has had in the creation of ISIS.
  • Take seriously Britain’s recently published  Chilcot Report that indicted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for cooperating with the Bush administration in misleading the world into that war.
  • Prosecute Blair, Bush, Cheney and others for the crimes the Chilcot Report describes.
  • Open western borders to the refugees inevitably produced by the U.S.-led wars over the last 15 years.
  • Spend the billions now invested in war against ISIS on rebuilding Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Palestine.
  • In churches and other principled fora, specifically condemn all Islamophobic statements of politicians and other public figures.

Only actions like these can release the world from massacres that are the unavoidable consequences of the wars we rightly recognize as hell.

Forget Martha; Be Like Lazy Mary and Jester Jesus (Sunday Homily)

un tal

Readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gn. 18: 1-10A; Ps. 15: 2-5; Col. 1: 24-28; Lk. 10: 38-42.

What do you think you’ll regret most as you lay dying? If you’re like most, it will be that you spent too much time at your day job – too much time working and not enough time socializing and enjoying life. Study after study affirms that.

Commenting on this regret, one Hospice nurse said:

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

I’ll bet almost everyone reading this can relate to those words and would like to avoid final regrets about overwork.

Problem is: our culture sets overwork as an ideal. In fact, we’re taught to prize overwork. This is especially true of “American” culture where unlike our European counterparts, we spend an average of three hours per week more on the job. That adds up to something like a month more of work each year than our Europeans sisters and brothers. Most important, Americans take fewer (and shorter) vacations. The average American takes off less than six weeks a year; the average Frenchman almost 12. Swedes take the longest vacations – 16 ½ weeks per year.

Today’s gospel reading from Luke urges us to correct our tendency to overwork before it’s too late. In doing so, it directs our attention to the counter-cultural nature of Jesus’ teachings.

Yes, Jesus was extremely counter-cultural. We shouldn’t forget that. As Deepak Choprapoints out (in his The Third Jesus), the Sermon on the Mount, which captures the essence of Jesus’ wisdom, has him explicitly telling his disciples not to earn a living, save money, plan ahead or worry about the future. Of course, most of us don’t listen to Jesus when he says things like that.

And did you notice the description of the “Just Person” in today’s responsorial psalm? Man or woman, they harm no one, do not slander, speak ill of no one, and refuse to accept bribes. All of that raises no eyebrow. We yawn: none of that seems particularly counter-cultural.

But how about, “They lend not money at usury?” What about that? Yes, lending at interest is considered robbery and is forbidden in the Bible. (What if all Christians (and Jews) kept that commandment? Our world with its economy based on credit and interest, would be entirely different.)
The world would also be different – our lives would not be the same – if we acted like Mary instead of Martha.

The misdirection of traditional sermons obscures that possibility. Customarily homilists understand the story of Martha and Mary in a strictly spiritual sense. Their commentaries use the two sisters to compare the active and the contemplative lives – as though poor Martha stood for lay people having to wait on others with no time for prayer like the more otherworldly Mary. Martha’s sister “choses the better part” like a contemplative “religious” eschewing “the world of work” and spending their time pondering the spiritual teachings of Jesus and living a life rapt in prayer and contemplation.

I used to think that too – until I read Un Tal Jesus (“A Certain Jesus”) written by Maria Lopez Vigil and her brother, Jose Ignacio. (The book has been translated into English under the title Just Jesus.) The authors are Cuban and now live in Nicaragua. Maria is a former nun; Jose Ignacio, a former priest.

Together the Lopez-Vigils created a series of radio programs broadcast all over Latin America. The shows dramatized the four gospels and presented a very human Jesus – the one who emerges from recent scholarship on the historical Jesus.

In Un Tal Jesus, Jesus is black, has a winning smile, and a very down-to-earth sense of humor. (The photo at the top of this blog entry shows Jesus as depicted in the Lopez-Vigil’s book.) The human Jesus portrayed in that radio series scandalized many and inspired even more throughout the Latin world and beyond.

As the Lopez-Vigils envision it, today’s episode takes place in a Bethany tavern owned by Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary. It’s a place of eating, drinking and lodging for travelers. It’s a place of laughter, joking, over-eating and drunkenness. And Jesus is right there in the middle of it all.

Passover is approaching, and the inn is full of pilgrims. It’s steamy, noisy, and loud. Martha is on the job, waiting on tables and controlling the rest of the staff. Meanwhile Mary (whom scholars increasingly identify with Mary Magdalene, Jesus closest female companion) is distracted by conversation with Jesus, who is bantering with his friends.

And what are they talking about? Religion? God? Spirituality? No, they’re joking. Jesus is posing riddle after riddle. And Mary finds it completely entertaining. In part, their dialog goes like this:

Jesus: What’s as small as a mouse but it guards the house like a lion. One, two, three: Guess what it is!
Mary: Small as a rat…and…it’s a key! I guessed it, I guessed it!
Jesus: Listen to this one: It’s as small as a nut, has no feet but can climb a mountain.
Mary: Wait… a nut going up the mountain…a snail!…Ha, ha, ha, tell me another one!
Jesus: You won’t guess this one right. Listen well: It has no bones, it is never quiet, with edges sharper than scissors.
Mary: It has no bones… I don’t know…
Jesus: It’s your tongue, Mary, which never rests!

Well, Mary and Jesus might have found that sort of patter entertaining, but Martha did not. She’s in charge of the inn and is worried about her guests waiting impatiently for their food while bread is burning in the oven. So she makes her complaint to Jesus: “Stop your chatter and let my sister do her job!” It’s then that Jesus makes that remark about Mary’s choosing the better part. She’s chosen socializing and play over work.

Does that scandalize you – Jesus distancing himself from work? Well, it seems completely consistent with what I said about Jesus earlier. It coincides with his general approach to work, money, profit, saving, and anxiety about the future.

What difference would it make in our own lives if we accepted that message: socializing, community, and fun are more important than work? What difference would it make in our culture if, in a context of widespread unemployment we elected candidates advocating “spreading the work around,” spreading the money around, shortening the work week, and affording us more time with friends and family, eating, drinking, joking, and playing?

What difference would it make to us on our death beds?

What do you think?

The Peasants Are Coming: Brexit, Free Trade & Mass Migrations

Brexit & Refugees

On June 24th Great Britain shocked the world by voting to exit the European Union (Brexit). Some celebrated the succession as a left wing “Peasant Revolt” against so-called “free trade agreements.”  They were right. Europe (and the world) needs an economic revolution from below. And Brexit was a shot across the bow of corporate globalization.

Others however ascribed the Brexit to narrow right wing anti-immigrant nationalism. They were also correct. However right wing focus on immigrants as if they were the root and sum of Europe’s problems obscures potential connections of interest between the right and its revolutionary counterpart seeking lasting solutions to the problems Brexit lays bare. Those solutions must go far beyond building walls and otherwise restricting immigration. They have to address globalism’s inherent contradictions and the various causes of the largest movement of peoples in world history.

For starters, think of those unprecedented migrations in the light of globalism’s contradictions as reflected in free trade pacts in our hemisphere as compared with the European Union.

Over here, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its Central American analogue (CAFTA) grant owners of capital the right to cross borders with abandon regardless of the destruction they wreak on local economies in Mexico, Central America, and elsewhere in the Global South. For instance, the dumping low-priced U.S. corn on Mexican markets has converted innumerable peasant farmers into urban workers seeking employment illegally in the United States.

The illegality results from NAFTA’s refusal to recognize that labor is just as essential as capital in the free market paradigm.  If so (and capitalist theory tells us it is), then logic dictates that the freedom of movement accorded one element, must also be granted the other.

However if labor were to enjoy the mobility of capital, the detrimental effects of globalism’s so-called “free trade” would become apparent to all. Workers from Mexico would be free to go where the money is – to the U.S. and Canada. In turn, workers in those countries would see their jobs threatened. They would rebel and reject corporate globalization by demanding the repeal of NAFTA and CAFTA.

Multi-national employers in the U.S. and Canada protect themselves from such reaction by formally pretending to stand with U.S. and Canadian workers against unrestricted immigration. Politically and with great bluster they support building walls. Actually, however, they find immigration essential because Global South workers are required, for example, to harvest tomatoes and lettuce in the United States. Immigrants also exert downward pressure on U.S. wages generally and in construction and service industries in particular. All of that is good for business. The wall-talk is just window dressing.

That’s what’s happening on this side of the pond.

By way of contrast, the granddaddy of all free trade agreements, the European Union (EU) has been less illogical than NAFTA and CAFTA. It has granted labor the same mobility as capital. So workers in the European Union are free to cross borders from economically depressed member states such as Bulgaria and Greece to where the money is in Germany and Great Britain. The results are predictable. In the context of a tight labor market induced by the Great Recession, a huge backlash has resulted against immigrants for reasons described above. Brexit was the outcome.

But the immigrant problem is far more complicated than meets the eye. Ignoring that complexity blocks necessarily nuanced responses. It also blocks union of those right and left wing concerns earlier referenced.

The fact is: not all immigrants are economic. Instead, there are really three types of immigrants taking part in today’s mass migrations. True: some contemporary refugees are economically driven. Many others however are war refugees; a third group seeks refuge from the effects of climate chaos. The legitimate interests of each of these groups dictate separate policy changes that are generally ignored in xenophobic rhetoric about building walls, and protecting national identity.

Economic immigrants are those earlier-mentioned working people who demand the same rights as big capital. Within the European Union, and as already indicated, they have been moving legally from low wage countries to higher wage venues.  In our hemisphere, workers from Mexico and Central America have intuitively followed free-trade logic. They have voted with their feet against the labor restrictions of NAFTA and CAFTA despite the trade agreements’ legal prohibitions.

For their part, war refugees are flooding the world as a result of United States’ and U.S.-supported bombing campaigns (including drones) in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Palestine, Yemen, and elsewhere. Such campaigns have demolished the refugees’ homes, and destroyed their communities and jobs. It’s no wonder then that they reluctantly seek refuge in Europe and the United States. Under international law, they have the legal right to do so. Morally speaking, those responsible for the bombings are most obliged to receive them. The culprit United States should lead the way.

Finally, refugees from climate chaos form a separate category. Many migrants from Syria, for instance, are fleeing not only U.S.-sponsored bombing raids; they are farmers whose fields have been devastated by a years-long drought. Other refugees from island nations and coastal regions find their homes swallowed by rising sea-levels caused by melting polar icecaps. As global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, this category of refugees will soon dwarf the other two.

In light of such distinctions about free trade, the logic of globalized capitalism, and the three classes of refugees, clear remedies suggest themselves – all inspired by Brexit. In a word, the basic remedy is democracy. More specifically, required policy changes include: (1) Exiting all free trade agreements responsible for economic refugees; (2) Stopping the bombing and wars that create homeless refugees, and (3) Leaving fossil fuels in the ground while adopting mandatory regulations to prevent further warming of the planet.

Though unlikely, all of this is possible. As the Brexit vote demonstrates, there is nothing mandatory or inevitable about free trade agreements. In developing countries, they all can be replaced by what in the past was called “import substitution.” That meant industrialization by Global South economies and instituting protectionist policies to keep imports out and economic emigrants at home.

Such substitution is based three realizations: (1) that no country has ever achieved “developed” status by reliance on supplying raw materials and agricultural products to industrialized nations, (2) that such policy of protectionism and import substitution was itself responsible for the economic advancement of the United States, and (3) after World War II, it worked in Global South countries such as Costa Rica with the result of separating it from its unindustrialized neighbors as economically successful.

[Please note that if free trade agreements remain under consideration, democracy demands that their discussion involve all affected parties with equal representation and vote. Such negotiations would include environmentalists and their concerns for air, water plants and animals. They would involve workers whose jobs might be lost, and community members whose neighborhoods and cities might be devastated by mass emigration, increased pollution or by waves of immigrants. Here absolute transparency is required.  There can be no secret negotiations, top-secret documents, or one-sided elite authorship of policies that end up affecting millions of disenfranchised workers including women and children.]

If Brexit was the start of a peasant revolution, it’s time for all of us to join our brothers and sisters at the barricades across the pond, pitchforks in hand. Our enemies in this struggle are not immigrant workers victims of our wars, or those whom one-percenters call environmental extremists. They are instead the extremist negotiators of secret trade pacts, belligerent prosecutors of wars and obtuse deniers of humanly-induced climate change.

Those are the exploiters whom the Brexit vote indicates we must unite to overthrow and replace.

The Irrelevance of Religion in the Eyes of Jesus (Sunday Homily)

Good Sam Pic

Readings for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: DT. 30: 10-14; Ps. 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 34, 36-37; Col. 1: 15-20; Lk. 10: 25-37.

What do you think? Does God care about religion? Does She need it? Do we? Does She even care if we’re Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist?

Today’s Gospel reading – the familiar parable of “The Good Samaritan – seems to answer “no” to all of those questions.

The tale addresses the problems of crime and violence and of proper human response. Surprisingly, the recommended response is not “religious” at all, but humanitarian. It is unadorned motherly compassion by a specifically irreligious actor.

Jesus makes that point by creating a fictional account where the hero is despicable in the eyes of his audience. He is a Samaritan. Meanwhile, the villains of the piece are religious leaders – a priest and a Levite (virulent enemies of the Goddess religions that biblical patriarchs detested). .

In Jesus’ time, Samaritans were social outcasts belonging to a group of renegade Jews who (by Jesus’ time) had been separated from the Jewish community for nearly 1000 years. They were seen as having polluted the Jewish bloodline by intermarrying with the country’s Assyrian conquerors about 700 years earlier. Female goddesses figured prominently in the religions of ancient Assyria.

As a result, Jewish priests and Levites considered Samaritans “unclean;” they were traitors, enemy-sympathizers, heretics and even atheists. They rejected Jewish understandings of the patriarchal Yahweh and the Temple worship that went along with them. For priests and Levites, Yahweh was interested in temple sacrifice and abstract law.

And yet the Good Samaritan is found to be more worthy, more pleasing in God’s eyes than the priest or Levite, who enjoyed great prestige among Jews as “men of God.”

Yes, Jesus prefers the Samaritan because his actions speak much louder than the religious orthodoxy of Israel’s holy men or than the word “Samaritan” would allow. The outcast expresses typically female compassion; so Jesus approves.

In this way, Jesus’ story calls his audience (and us!) to transcend socially prescribed categories, patriarchy, and even religion in dealing with problems of crime and violence. In fact, the crimes addressed in the parable are not primarily robbery and physical abuse. They are indifference, denial, and patriarchy’s religious hypocrisy.

The solution to such crimes along with robbery and violence is not found in religion, theology or temple sacrifices. It lies simply in compassionate action – in “being there” for victims.

As always, then, Jesus’ words invite us to reconsider our very understanding faith, and our favorite categories of “good” and “evil” — and the identity of God Herself.

Perhaps religion is not that important for followers of Jesus after all — nor to the Great Cosmic Mother..

Studying Liberation Theology in Brazil: Realizing Hitler Won WWII (Personal Reflections XVI)

Nazis Won

Last week I wrote about Paulo Freire and the friendship Peggy and I formed with him in Brazil in 1984. Paulo had a huge influence on Liberation Theology which I first met during my graduate studies in Rome (1967-’72). There I had written my doctoral dissertation on Jurgen Moltmann, the great Reformed theologian who was the doyen of the Theology of Hope. As a member of a missionary society (Society of St. Columban) I tried to connect Moltmann’s concept of “mission” with the same category in the Second Vatican Council’s  Ad Gentes.

While finishing my work on that topic (at the Academia Alfonsiana – with Bernard Haring on my committee), I heard Gustavo Gutierrez speak. At the time, Gustavo was the leading voice in the theology of liberation, which emerged to prominence following the 1968 Medeillin Conference of Latin American Bishops in Colombia. Immediately I could see the connections between the two.

I got the opportunity to explore those connections while Peggy was working on her own dissertation with Freire. I enrolled in a seminar at the Santa Maria de Asuncao seminary in San Paulo. It had me sitting at the feet of a series of liberation theologians I had by that time been reading for years. Prominent among them was Enrique Dussel; so was Chilean scripture scholar, Pablo Richard who (because of the U.S.-supported Pinochet coup) was living in exile in Costa Rica. Dussel was an Argentinian philosopher of liberation. His home had been bombed by the Argentine military during its infamous “dirty war” supported by the United States. So he was then living in exile in Mexico.

He was a dynamic lecturer, but I found him puzzling. He used terms and made references that were new to me. For instance, instead of referring to World Wars I and II, he spoke of the First and Second Inter-capitalist Wars. I had never heard that before. But the phrases caused me to do some research. And sure enough: those wars were between capitalist powers who were struggling for supremacy and to achieve a position in the world very like the one enjoyed by the United States today.

How had I missed that, I wondered? The answer, of course, was that I had learned my history in the United States which conceals such obvious facts. I did more research and eventually wrote a long essay that I published in Spanish in Pasos, the journal of the Ecumenical Research Institute in Costa Rica – a liberation theology think tank. The essay was called “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”

Here it is summarized in the “Easy Essay” form coined by Peter Maurin, the founder (with Dorothy Day) of the Catholic Worker newspaper:

Following Germany’s defeat

in “the First Inter-Capitalist War,”

the system was in trouble in das Vaterland.

It also foundered world-wide

after the Crash of ‘29.

So Joseph Stalin

convoked a Congress of Victory

to celebrate the death of capitalism

and the End of History —

in 1934.

Both Hitler and F.D.R.

tried to revive the corpse.

They enacted similar measures:

government funds to stimulate private sector production,

astronomically increased defense spending,

nationalization of some enterprises,

while carefully keeping most in the hands of private individuals.

To prevent workers from embracing communism,

both enacted social programs otherwise distasteful to the Ruling Class,

but necessary to preserve their system:

legalized unions, minimum wage, shortened work days, safety regulation, social                     security . . .

Roosevelt called it a “New Deal;”

Hitler’s term was “National Socialism.”

Roosevelt used worker discontent

with their jobs and bosses

to get elected four times.

Meanwhile, Hitler successfully directed worker rage

away from the Krupps and Bayers

and towards the usual scapegoats:

Jews, communists, gays, blacks, foreigners and Gypsies.

He admired the American extermination of “Indians”

and used that model of starvation and internment

to guide his own program for eliminating undesirables

by hunger and concentrated slaughter.

Hitler strictly controlled national unions,

thus relieving the worries of the German elite.

In all of this,

he received the support of mainline churches.

Pius XII even praised der Führer  as

“an indispensable bulwark against the Russians.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the German “Confessing Church”

resisted Hitler’s program

of social Darwinism, patriotism and persecution of the undeserving.

Confessing faithful were critical of “religion”

which combined anti-Semitism, white supremacy, patriotism and xenophobia

with selected elements of Christianity.

They insisted on allegiance

to Jesus alone

who stood in judgment over soil, fatherland, flag and blood.

They even urged Christian patriots

to pray for their country’s defeat in war.

Bonhoeffer participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler

and explored the promise of

Christianity without “religion.”

Hitler initially enjoyed great popularity

with the powerful

outside of Germany,

in Europe and America.

He did!

Then as baseball magnate and used car saleswoman, Marge Schott, put it,

“He went too far.”

His crime, however, was not gassing Jews,

but trying to subordinate his betters in the club

of white, European, capitalist patriarchs.

He thus evoked their ire

and the “Second Inter-Capitalist War.”

Following the carnage,

the industrialists in other countries

embraced Hitlerism without Hitler.

They made sure that communists, socialists and other “partisans”

who bravely resisted German occupation

did not come to political power,

but that those who had cooperated with Nazis did.

Today, the entrepreneurial classes

still support Nazis, whenever necessary.

The “Hitlers” they championed have aliases

like D’Aubisson (El Salvador), Diem (Vietnam), Duvalier (Haiti), Franco (Spain),

Fujimori (Peru), Mobutu (Zaire), Montt (Guatemala), Noriega (Panama), Peron                         (Argentina), Pinochet (Chile), Resa Palavi (Iran), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Somoza                     (Nicaragua), Strossner (Paraguay), Suharto (Indonesia). . . .

The list is endless.

The global elite deflect worker hostility

away from themselves

towards communists, blacks, gays, immigrants and Muslims,

towards poor women who stay at home

and middle class women who leave home to work.

Today, Christians embrace social Darwinism

while vehemently rejecting evolution.

Standing on a ground of being

underpinning the world’s most prominent culture

of religious fundamentalism,

they long for Hoover,

and coalesce

with the right.

In all of this

is forgotten the Jesus of the New Testament

who was born a homeless person

to an unwed,

teenage mother,

was an immigrant in Egypt for a while,

came from the working poor,

was accused of being a drunkard,

a friend of sex workers,

irreligious,

possessed by demons

and condemned by the state

a victim of torture

and of capital punishment.

Does this make anyone wonder about Marge Schott,

the difference between Hitler’s system

and our own,

and also about “religion”

and how to be free of it,

about false Christs . . . .

And who won that war anyway?

(Next week: more about our experience in Brazil)